Ruminant Nutrition: Forage Quality

As the old saying goes, “you’ve got to make hay when the sun shines!” Looking at the weather forecast this week, I’ve been told that many forage producers are taking advantage of this long stretch of good weather that is becoming a rarity in May. Therefore, this weeks posting will provide a series of videos that I hope you will be able to watch while waiting in the field or on your lunch break. Remember, as livestock producers, we are chasing forage quality in hopes of reducing the needs for concentrate feeds. This short video provided by Penn State Extension explains the trade off between forage quality and quantity and how these feedstuffs are utilized by the ruminant system. Enjoy and if you are in the field this week, be safe!

Feeding Practices in Sheep

Dr. David G. Pugh, DVM, MS, MAg, DACT, DACVN, DACVM, Auburn University
(Previously published online with the Merck Manual – Veterinary Manual: October, 2022)

Feeding Farm Sheep
Sheep make excellent use of high-quality roughage stored either as hay or low-moisture, grass-legume silage, or occasionally chopped green feed. Good-quality hay or stored forage is a highly productive feed; poor-quality forage, no matter how much is available, is suitable only for maintenance. Hay quality is determined primarily by the following:

  1. its composition, (e.g., a mixture of grasses and legumes such as brome/alfalfa or bluegrass/clover)
  2. the stage of maturity when cut (e.g., the grass before heading and alfalfa before one-tenth bloom)
  3. method and speed of harvesting due to loss of leaf, bleaching by sun, and leaching by rain
  4. spoilage and loss during storage and feeding

In general, the same factors influence the quality of Continue reading

The Rush to the Grass Flush

Mike Rankin, Hay and Forage Grower Managing Editor
(Previously published in Hay & Forage Grower: May 2, 2023)

It’s this time of year when grasses show us and tell us what they’re made of. They tell us what they like and what they don’t like. It seems some people never learn the language of grasses while others are obsessed by it.

Although different species of grasses have unique characteristics, as a group they are generally more tolerant of poor management and subpar soils than are many legumes. They often grow in spite of what we do rather than because of what we do.

Although grasses are more forgiving than legumes in terms of where they can grow and what they demand, their range of productivity spans a wide axis based on how we manage them. Over the course of the next four to six weeks, grasses will transition from boom to bust — or lush to flush — if we let them. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. Continue reading

First Cutting Can Make or Break a Season

Mike Rankin, Hay and Forage Grower Managing Editor
(Previously published in Hay & Forage Grower: April 11, 2023)

Over the course of the next two months, a large number of hay implements will venture out into fields for their maiden voyage of 2023. Be it grass or alfalfa, first cutting separates itself as a time that often defines the hay or haylage harvest season.

One of the unique advantages of harvesting forage is that desired forage quality can largely be attained by the grower simply manipulating the time of cutting. In the same vein, yield can also be dictated, but at the expense of forage quality.

No other harvest during the year offers more opportunity for obtaining high forage quality — as defined by digestible fiber — than the initial spring cutting. Further, this forage often makes up the greatest proportion of Continue reading

Spring Oats Offer Fast Forage

Mike Rankin, Hay and Forage Grower Managing Editor
(Previously published in Hay & Forage Grower: March 28, 2023)

Although the days of growing oats for horses have morphed into grandfather tales on most farms, the cereal grain remains a valuable and often-used species in the forage toolbox. Whenever fast forage to graze or harvest is needed, or a companion crop for an alfalfa seeding is desired, more often than not the conversation turns to oats.

The utility of oats as a forage crop can be capitalized upon not just in the fall as a late-season annual but also in the spring if winter annuals didn’t get planted last fall, if they winterkilled, or if perennials suffered winter injury. The beauty of oats is that they can be planted and harvested earlier than most other forage alternatives.

The planting window for spring oats varies by location but generally adheres to the mantra of Continue reading

Parturient Paresis in Sheep and Goats (Milk Fever, Hypocalcemia, Lambing Sickness)

By George Fthenakis , DVM, MSc, PhD, DECAR, DECSRHM, University of Thessaly, Greece
(Previously published in the Merck Manual – Veterinary Manual: October, 2022)

Parturient paresis in pregnant and lactating ewes and does is a disturbance of metabolism characterized by acute-onset hypocalcemia and rapid development of hyperexcitability and ataxia, progressing to depression, recumbency, coma, and death. Unlike parturient paresis in dairy cattle, which primarily occurs within a few days of calving, the condition in ewes and does usually occurs before and less commonly after parturition. This condition may be underdiagnosed in some situations.

Etiology of parturient paresis in sheep and goats
Parturient paresis is due to a decrease in calcium intake under conditions of increased calcium requirements, usually during late gestation. This results in a low serum calcium concentration, particularly in animals pregnant with multiple fetuses. Some cases are complicated by concurrent pregnancy toxemia. Ewes that are both hypocalcemic and hyperketonemic may not be able to Continue reading

Feeding Lambs – Frequently Asked Questions

Susan Hosford, Business Development Specialist, Camrose
Dr. Susan Markus, Ag – Info Centre, Alberta Agriculture & Food
(Previously published online by: Alberta Sheep, 2007)

Alberta lambs are typically born sometime between January and May. Depending on the market they will move into, feeding them grain at some point to maximize gain likely can’t be avoided whether it is a creep ration for young lambs, or a growing or finishing ration to grow lambs to market weight.

Many of the premium lamb markets require that lambs be grain finished. Grass finishing is in demand for some specialty markets. With high quality pasture and good health management (de-worming and coccidiosis control) lambs can be finished on pasture, but it is more difficult to manage growth rate, fat finish, and marketing date when finishing lambs on pasture.

Creep feeding is most profitable when lamb prices are high and feed costs are low. However, when pasture conditions are affected by drought, grasshoppers, or overgrazing, creep feeding lambs is used to achieve growth and finish on market lambs. This is particularly needed when the ewes are trying to raise multiple lambs on poor pasture. Three to four weeks after lambing even the best milking ewes begin to produce less milk. To continue to grow lambs need good feed. If pasture is poor or in short supply the creep is used to fill the nutritional needs of the growing lambs. Creep
feeding is also used to manipulate growth when trying to meet a particular market period.

What kind of ration used in the creep and how much of it the lambs consume varies greatly, what are guidelines? Continue reading